More than 300 breweries sit on the GABF waiting list as organizers sort out what to do

GABFreg.jpg
Christopher Morgan
Organizers for the Great American Beer Festival are acting quickly to try and deal with the backlash from this year's frantic brewery registration process, which left many would-be attendees around the country out of luck and out of the festival.

Registration opened on Tuesday, but within two hours, it was sold out, surprising a number of breweries, who voiced their displeasure online. The Brewers Association, which runs the festival, also had technical problems with its servers.

See also:
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At the end of the day, there were about 650 brewers registered for the competition, of which only about 600 will be able to pour beer in the Colorado Convention Center. Another 300 breweries had signed up for the waiting list, however.

Some of the Colorado breweries that didn't get registered in time, according to social media accounts and news reports, include Bristol Brewing and Rocky Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs; Crooked Stave and Hogshead in Denver; Loveland Ale Works; and Odd 13, which will open in Lafayette in August.

On Tuesday, festival directors wrote a message to members in a private email -- which was leaked online by Beerpulse.com -- promising to review all of the registrations and to start adding a few breweries to the festival that are currently on the waiting list.

But BA spokeswoman Barbara Fusco warns that the number of breweries added could be very small. "There are way more breweries than there are spaces," she says.

Fusco points out that the registration process lasted two days in 2012 and that there were only seventy breweries on the waiting list. "The interest is phenomenal," she adds.

But the BA won't be able to expand the festival this year, and Fusco says she can't make any promises about 2014 either, primarily because it is already so huge and because the organization has already booked a certain amount of time and space.

In addition, there are only a certain number of people available to judge the beers, and those people are already challenging their taste buds and their blood-alcohol content.

"We want to maintain the quality of the judges and the integrity of the festival," she says. "So growing it exponentially isn't something that will happen soon."

Based on the number of judges available, "the maximum number of beers we have set is 4,675, which is 337 more than in 2012 and a 7.75 percent increase. In 2012, we had 4,338 beers...and that was a more than 10 percent increase over 2011," she explains.

Each brewery is allowed to enter a maximum of ten beers -- a number that was capped last year -- although some will enter fewer.

Numerous ideas have been bandied about on the Internet for ways to ease the demand, both for breweries and for attendees, including: expanding the space that is used at the Convention Center; adding more days or more weekends; holding regional tournaments or competitions; and limiting the festival to breweries of a certain age or size.

Fusco says the association will consider all of them. "Certainly those discussions will be amplified this year for next year. We will be deeply engaged in those discussions."


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7 comments
Jay Breese
Jay Breese

This event is obviously a victim of it's own success. Every year it gets more expensive and crowded. Why not hold 2 separate events?

Jon_S
Jon_S

If the BA really wants to keep expanding GABF with limited space, then they they probably have to expand the remaining element, which is time. Either add sessions so that GABF becomes an entire week, or maybe make it two consecutive weekends. I think that could work well with the rotating tables idea that others have mentioned.

I also think Michael564 is on to something with satellite competitions. Perhaps create 4 or 5 regional beer fests under the GABF umbrella, with the top breweries from the regionals moving on to the full national GABF?

Michael564
Michael564

How about creating different registrations for separate categories of brewers? I'm specifically thinking about the brewers who represent restaurants or other companies who's main focus is NOT beer. These beers will never see the light of day outside of the respective establishments. So, although some fantastic beer may be crafted by them, why should they get the same focus as real breweries? Why should they prevent real breweries from being able to attend?

Michael564
Michael564

Anyone who's tried to score tickets through Ticket Ma$ter or LiveNation knows that the secret is to have multiple browsers logging in and/or multiple people trying. This overloads the servers but also is the only way to nearly ensure you get through.
Large brewers know this "trick" I'm sure, and they have the staff available to work the system. Small brewers get shut out.
Is this really what we want the GABF to represent?
The NYC Marathon is a great example of a system that took time to develop, but has been generally accepted by the runners. Not only is there a lottery system, the NYRRC also provides ways to guarantee entry -- run a certain # of races and volunteer at least once.
Boston, on the other hand, has qualification times that have to be met before registering.
Either of those ideas could be applied to GABF. Winning a certain number of satellite competitions would weed out the fluff. Brewers who give back to their community or the beer world or even GABF itself could be given preference.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

Another option would be to have a single-session sign-up for brewers who don't want to be there for all four sessions. This way, one booth space could potentially be used for up to 4 different breweries. There could even be a seniority weighting, so that breweries that are less than a year old or who have never attended GABF before would only be eligible for the one-session signup. 

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

There are tons of ways to deal with situations like this, but all of them involve one thing - planning. It's been almost a year since last year's GABF, so it seems like the level of interest could have been gauged well in advance and expectations could have been set. Every craft beer drinker out there knows that there's been an explosion of new breweries in the past couple of years. It doesn't seem unreasonable for the GABF organizers to recognize and prepare for this trend.

Options include a lottery-style sign-up or a point system that rewards previous attendees (or even medal winners, so that the best beers don't get shut out). Every year, the New York Marathon has way more registrants than they have room for. If you register 3 years in a row and still don't get in, you are guaranteed a spot for the 4th year. But, again this requires planning. If registrants aren't given options and just have to hope they can bang a keyboard faster than the other guy, it ceases to become a festival representative of the American beer scene and is instead just a contest to see who knows how to register the fastest. I'm sure all the bigger breweries with their own dedicated marketing staff didn't have issues, since the brewer didn't have to stop making beer in order to register. I'm also guessing that a few breweries  - probably the ones that interest craft beer fans the least - had guaranteed spots and didn't have to go through the online registration process at all.

Michael564
Michael564

@Mantonat I like this idea! Every year there are brewers who don't bring enough beer to cover all the sessions. This process would allow another small brewer to share the table over the course of the festival. Not hard to switch out the kegs and signs in between sessions.

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